Changing behavior in well control management

The recommendations from the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers following the Macondo well blow-out clearly called for a sharper focus on the technical content of well control training.

The recommendations from the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers following the Macondo well blow-out clearly called for a sharper focus on the technical content of well control training. Another priority issue was addressing human factors, including the competence and behaviors of the workforce.

A number of steps have been taken to address the technical shortfall. For its part, the International Well Control Forum reviewed its Drilling Well Control and Well Intervention Pressure Control syllabi, and new subjects were introduced around assurance of well integrity throughout the lifecycle of the well. These subjects included barrier management, casing and cementing, risk assessment, contingency management, and management of change.

In addition, technical taskforces were established to steer and shape exam content and questions.

The frequency of audits of training providers has also been increased. This was seen as a necessary step after issues regarding the consistency in training between centers and regions was identified.

However, the change in behavior of a global offshore workforce is more difficult to assess and measure.

The investigations found that through the chain of events, processes where people could challenge or take action were not always followed. It took a major fatal incident to place a global spotlight on standards and highlight the need for far greater consistency in training the people who are involved in well operations around the world.

A broader perspective on safety and particularly human factors is still needed to address the accountability issues experienced in the aftermath of the Macondo and Montara incidents.

A greater emphasis needs to be placed on empowering the workforce in the importance of their individual roles. This education should start at the most basic level with a focus on reaching out to students and those entering the industry for the first time. At the other end of the spectrum, it also needs to reach the high achieving engineers who have safety critical roles to play in drilling and well operations.

It is encouraging to see operators start to consider enhanced standards in drilling and well intervention. This is increasingly important as the industry ventures into increasingly hostile environments such as the Arctic and deeper waters. The enhanced content is more focused on learning from real well control incidents involving simulated exercises. It has been proven that team work and peer-to-peer review and feedback can deliver more dramatic results than classroom questions and answers.

Candidates undertake preparation in their own time including a technical refresher with advances in equipment ahead of the practical role play. They are then assessed in a similar manner as on a standard course, but can be expected to achieve higher results.

This preparation improves the capability of participants to anticipate and deal properly with all scales of a well control incident and encourages a more proactive approach to stopping the well flowing uncontrollably in the first instance. Exercises and critiques also include human factors behavioral sensitivity with a greater focus on crew resource management.

There is also growing recognition that it is just as important for people in onshore roles to get involved with well control training. Increasing knowledge around the reality of responding to a "well kick" or blowout situation offshore can help guide the support offered from onshore colleagues.

But the question remains around how you really measure a shift in behavior of a global workforce. There is a lack of unified data on the values, beliefs and expectations between oil and gas companies that could help to track any improvement. Hard and fast statistics on incidents and importantly the near misses are currently the best way to learn, but this information is not always shared.

An industry-wide effort is needed to further drive up competency. It will take a greater level of collaboration to achieve this. The first seeds have been sown, but over the months and years ahead we must unite to address the challenge of effecting a permanent change in safety behavior. The consequences of not doing this will damage the whole industry.

David Price
International Well Control Forum

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